Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Henley Rotary Club

NEW members are normally asked to give a talk introducing themselves within a short time of their induction and at Tuesday’s twilight meeting at the Red Lion Hotel it was the turn of Dennis Craggs, a retired accountant, who joined the club in November.

He gave a comprehensive account of what he called the “Craggs dynasty”, which started with George Craggs, his seventh great grandfather, who was born in 1610 in County Durham.

Although they were not direct ancestors, he described the activities of James Craggs the elder and James Craggs the younger, both MPs who were involved in the market crash known as the South Sea Bubble in 1720.

The elder died in some disgrace but was preceded by the younger who died of smallpox. His tomb is in Westminster Abbey.

Following the original George Craggs, there were four more generations before Robert Craggs, who was born in 1799, started the family’s connection with shipbuilding, later opening a yard at Middlesbrough, where they built iron and steel steamers.

Robert’s second son, George (Dennis’s great-grandfather) left the firm to take over a small barge building yard in Goole with his son Herbert.

Dennis’s father (Herbert’s son) studied as a mechanical engineer and spent some time in Germany between the wars when he lived in the house of an ex-colonel on the Kaiser’s staff.

Meanwhile, Herbert had purchased Clelands, a shipbuilding and repairing yard at Wallsend on the Tyne and Dennis’s father moved to Newcastle to run it.

During the war they built deep sea and salvage tugs and, post-war, six barges for the Burmah Oil Company before the communists came to Burma.

The business was sold to Swan Hunter in the Sixties and the yards were nationalised in 1977 and all but closed for shipbuilding in 1985.

Dennis himself took an engineering degree at Oxford in 1973 but eventually chose accountancy as a profession and, after qualifying with Coopers & Lybrand in Newcastle in 1976, spent four years in practice in the Bahamas.

There, he took up scuba diving and visited Micronesia where he discovered the wrecks of Japanese warships.

After a couple of years in practice in Edmonton, Alberta, he returned to London and worked for Robert Maxwell’s companies and, after the tycoon’s death, became chairman of the trustees of one of the pension schemes in attempting to recoup the losses.

He worked for other entrepreneurs, notably the Barclay brothers in the motor trade, and for American investors in Europe in the self-storage sector for 15 years before retiring two years ago.

He is a trustee of a number of charities, including PACE in Aylesbury, which provides education, therapy and support for children with cerebral palsy, and is very much involved with the Rivertime Trust. He is also treasurer of the Henley Regatta for the Disabled at Phyllis Court Club.

John Grout gave the vote of thanks.

Later, Barry Prior reported that the charity auction held at Henley Golf Club last week had raised £1,500.

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